While three teams are 7-0 in conference play and in the running for the two American Athletic Conference playoff berths, it is a .500 Navy team that will have a major impact on the final standings.
That’s because, with one game left, UTSA and Tulane meet in a battle of unbeatens on Friday, with the winner guaranteed a spot. The only other guaranteed spot would be if SMU (9-2, 7-0) beats Navy (5-5, 4-3) on Saturday at noon (ET) on ESPN2.
If Navy happens to upset SMU, then a tiebreaker system would be used to determine whether SMU or the loser of Tulane-UTSA is the second team.
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SMU is the prohibitive favorite. BetMGM has the Mustangs listed as a 20-point favorite.
And it’s easy to say that Navy has nothing to lose, but the Midshipmen are playing for bowl eligibility. Since their game with Army occurs after the bowl bids are released, Navy must win this game to be bowl-eligible, according to a school spokesman.
Whether Navy was playing for a bowl bid or not, the Midshipmen are not the easiest team to face.
Want to know the only FBS team with three shutouts?
That would be Navy, which earned its third with this past week’s 10-0 home win over East Carolina. Navy has also defeated FCS Wagner 24-0 and won at Charlotte 14-0.
Even though ECU and Charlotte are a combined 5-17 and Wagner is an FCS school, a shutout is still a shutout. Despite the fact that ECU, who has had some rough seasons, the Pirates have not been shut out in 332 games since a 56-0 loss to Syracuse on Oct. 4, 1997.
Navy will have to hope its defense keeps the Midshipmen in the SMU game.
The Midshipmen are 23rd in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 19.3 points per game.
Of course, SMU is sixth nationally in scoring offense, averaging 40.3 PPG.
Regardless of the outcome, Navy has improved this season under first-year coach Brian Newberry, who had been the defensive coordinator the previous three seasons.
Before this year, Navy had three consecutive losing seasons, going 11-23 and that eventually cost coach Ken Niumatalolo his job.
Even this year, it hasn’t been all smooth for the Navy defense. There was an opening 42-3 loss to Notre Dame in Ireland and a 44-30 home AAC loss to South Florida.
Yet the real question mark has been on the offensive side. Navy is averaging 18.7 points, which is 119th among 130 FBS teams.
For Navy to beat teams, the formula is to usually eat clock with the rushing game and play tight D. While the Midshipmen, with their triple-option offense, aren’t as high as they usually are in rushing statistics, they still rank 13th nationally, averaging 202.3 yards per game.
SMU has the second-best rushing defense in the AAC, allowing 112 yards per game.
Sophomore Alex Tecza leads the Navy ground game with 723 yards (6.3 avg.) and five TDs.
The Navy passing game is always a work in progress, although last week against ECU, QB Xavier Arline set a single-game school record for completion percentage. He completed 10-of-11 passes (90.9%) for 102 yards. The previous record was 88.2 percent (15-17) by Marco Pagnanelli against Duke on Oct. 2, 1982.
This year, Navy is averaging 14.5 passing attempts per game, which is like an aerial circus. By comparison, the Midshipmen averaged 10.5 attempts last season.
Arline might not need a 90% completion rate, but he will have to make SMU respect the passing game.
Leading Navy’s defense is junior LB Colin Ramos, who averages a team-high 8.8 tackles per game. Ramos has recorded double-figure tackles in each of his last four games, averaging 11.2 during that span. Junior defensive end Justin Reed leads the team with 4.5 sacks, all accomplished in the last six games.
Navy’s season appeared on the skids after a 32-18 loss at Temple left the Midshipmen 3-5, but wins over UAB and ECU have evened the record.
Navy was also competitive in a 28-24 loss at Memphis, the same Tigers team that lost 38-34 this past week at home to SMU.
While Navy can be competitive against good teams, the Midshipmen showed against Temple (3-8, 1-6) that they can struggle against less-than-stellar opponents.
Still, based on the previous three seasons and the 1-3 record to start this year, Navy likely would have signed up for playing a meaningful game in late November before their regular-season finale against Army on Dec. 9.